Without Power, Surgeons Work by Flashlight in Ukraine

    04 December 2022

    Russian strikes have cut off power across Ukraine, including many hospitals.

    The power outages added more pressure on the country's already weakened healthcare system. Medical operations, or surgeries, are being delayed. Patient records are unavailable because of internet outages.

    Dr. Oleh Duda was in the middle of a complex surgery at a hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, when he heard explosions. Moments later, the lights went out.

    This photo made available by Ukrainian doctor Oleh Duda shows the moment when lights at a hospital went out as he was performing complicated, dangerous surgery. (Oleh Duda via AP)
    This photo made available by Ukrainian doctor Oleh Duda shows the moment when lights at a hospital went out as he was performing complicated, dangerous surgery. (Oleh Duda via AP)

    Duda had to keep working with only a headlamp for light. The lights came back three minutes later but those "fateful minutes could have cost the patient his life," the surgeon told The Associated Press.

    The operation took place on November 15. That day, the city in western Ukraine suffered outages as Russia launched missiles at Ukraine's energy supply. The attacks damaged nearly 50 percent of the country's energy facilities.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that Ukraine's health system is facing "its darkest days in the war so far." The organization noted the growing energy crisis, the beginning of cold winter weather and other difficulties.

    Dr. Hans Kluge is the WHO's director for Europe. He said that 2 million to 3 million more people could leave their homes in search of warmth and safety. He said that could cause more health difficulties, including spreading infections like COVID-19, pneumonia and flu.

    Attacks have hit hospitals and other health centers in southeastern Ukraine, too. The WHO said in a statement that they have confirmed at least 703 attacks since the war began.

    Russia claims it does not target civilian facilities. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that Russia is targeting only structures "directly or indirectly related to military power."

    But last week, a strike on a maternity center in a hospital in eastern Ukraine killed a newborn baby and heavily wounded two doctors. And two people were killed in the northeastern Kharkiv area after the Russian forces hit a health center.

    In Lviv, Duda said the explosions were so close to the hospital that "the walls were shaking." Doctors and patients had to seek shelter underground.

    Across Kherson, it starts to get dark after 4 p.m. in late November. So, doctors are using headlamps, phone lights and flashlights to work. In some hospitals, important equipment no longer works.

    "The breathing machines don't work, the X-ray machines don't work. ... There is only one portable ultrasound machine," said Dr. Volodymyr Malishchuk. He is head of surgery at a children's hospital in Kherson.

    Health Minister Viktor Liashko said on Friday that there are no plans to shut down any of Ukraine's hospitals, no matter how bad the situation gets.

    Liashko said that generators have been provided to all hospitals. There will be 1,100 more generators sent by the country's Western allies in the coming weeks. A generator is a machine that uses fuel to create electricity. And the hospitals have enough fuel to last seven days.

    More generators are still badly needed, the minister added. "The generators are designed to work for a short period of time — three to four hours," but outages can last up to three days, Liashko said.

    Duda, the surgeon from Lviv, said "The war has affected every doctor in Ukraine, be it in the west or in the east, and the level of pain we're facing every day is hard to measure."

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    headlamp — n. a light worn on the forehead

    fateful — adj. producing a serious and usually bad result

    surgeon — n. a doctor who performs operations that involve cutting into someone's body in order to repair or remove damaged or diseased parts

    maternity — n. relating to the time when a woman gives birth to a baby

    flashlight — n. a small electric light that can be carried in your hand and that runs on batteries

    portable — adj. easy to carry or move around

    ultrasound — n. a method of producing images of the inside of the body by using a machine that produces sound waves which are too high to be heard